Pork Balls with Beans and Tomato

Polpettine di Maiale e Fagioli Borlotti

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • For


    persons if served with a liberal portion of soft polenta or preceded by soup

Appears in

Hah, you are making pork and beans!” said my raised-in-America son when he saw me working on this recipe. In responding I allowed as how it could be described as pork with beans, but I begged him please never to call it pork and beans. No offense intended, my Boston friends.

The ground pork is mixed with chopped onion, parsley, an egg, and milk-soaked bread, and shaped into the tiniest of meatballs. These are cooked with a faintly garlicky tomato sauce, and then combined with beans that have been cooked with sage and mashed garlic.

My own favorite way of serving this dish is with the soft, fine polenta from the recipe.


  • 1 cup dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight, or 1 pound unshelled fresh cranberry beans
  • 4 garlic cloves, 2 lightly mashed and peeled, 2 peeled and chopped
  • 10 medium sage leaves, 4 whole and 6 chopped
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup crumb, the soft, crustless part of bread
  • ¾ pound ground pork
  • ⅓ cup very finely chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs, spread on a plate
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups imported canned Italian peeled tomatoes, cut up with their juice
  • Chopped chili pepper, ⅛ teaspoon or to taste


  1. If you are using dried beans that have been soaking overnight, drain and rinse them. If using fresh beans, shell them and wash them in cold water. Whichever kind you are using, put them in a saucepan with 2 mashed and peeled garlic cloves, 4 whole sage leaves, a pinch of salt, a grinding or two of black pepper, and enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover tightly, bring to a gentle but steady simmer, and cook them over very low heat until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Warm up the milk in a small saucepan, but do not bring to a boil. When warm, take off heat and add the soft crumb.
  3. In a bowl combine the ground pork, onion, parsley, egg, milk-saturated crumb, and salt and mix gently with your hands until all ingredients are uniformly distributed.
  4. Make small, walnut-size balls from the pork mixture and roll them in the dry bread crumbs.
  5. Put the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle when a meatball is slipped in, put in all the meatballs. Brown them for about half a minute, then add the chopped garlic and sage. Turn the meatballs, browning them all over.
  6. When you smell the scent of garlic rising and the pork balls have been browned on all sides, add the chopped tomatoes with their juice and the chili pepper. With a wooden spoon, turn over the contents of the pan two or three times, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to low to cook at a slow simmer. After about 10 minutes, add the drained cooked beans.
  7. Cook until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, as described in the Note, about 20 minutes or so. While the meatballs are cooking, should it become necessary to replenish the liquid in the pan to keep them from sticking, add 3 or 4 tablespoons of water. When the tomato has cooked down to sauce density, however, there should be no water left in the pan.